Your RFP Guide - Top 10 sections to include
A request for proposal (RFP) is a document that solicits proposal, often made through a bidding process, by an agency or company interested in procurement of a commodity or service. The RFP process is a critical business methodology that separates competitive bidders and independent vendors using the process as an abstraction layer to maintain balance and fairness throughout the process.
For many businesses today, the RFP process is critical to purchasing new technology solutions in a repeatable process that elicits fairness amongst bidders and guarantees the right solution is purchased. Unfortunately, for many companies the RFP process can be a painful experience fraught with pitfalls and political battles that can oftentimes lead to mis-purchased tech. It’s hard to know exactly what you’re looking for and who can provide the best solution. Besides that, which vendors can you really trust? Afterall, their job is to sell their product. This is typically where companies turn to running some version of a Request for Proposal (RFP).
RFPs are no small task. Understanding the problem, defining requirements, assigning budget and then having to figure out which vendors make sense to include in the process can consume many resources. These processes are just like computers, if you ask for the wrong information there will be little to no value in the responses. If you don’t get it right, all of your work will be in vain.
No matter how complex of an RFP you create, there are some key details that you will want to include to ensure you have the best information in place to make an optimal, unbiased decision. Here are some things you should consider including in your RFPs.
1 - Clear Project Objectives
Just like with any good story, an RFP must start with the end in mind. This section needs to clearly answer the question “Why are you asking for responses from prospective partners?” Make sure and lay out clear challenges and what types of features you are looking for. Placing this at the top of your RFP helps vendors know up front if they’re a good fit. Just like writing the RFP takes significant time, so does responding. Be fair to your prospective partners.
2 - Comprehensive Company Overview
When responding to an RFP, bidders want to know who they are helping. Tell them about yourself. Include things like:
- Company history
- Products/Services you provide
- Target customers
- Operational Goals
This will help bidders customize their response specifically to your world.
3 - Detailed project description
One of the most important sections in your RFP is the description of the project. This is where you can give a more detailed outline of what you are looking for. Don’t spare any details so bidders know exactly what you are looking for and if they’re the right partner. The more specific this section is, the better quality of bids you will receive.
Make sure to include:
- Business goals and objectives
- Outline any individual criteria or tasks that might be necessary.
- This could be controversial but be upfront with your budget so contractors can get an idea of what you are looking for. It will only help weed out companies that don’t really fit.
4 - Evaluation criteria
Before you send any RFP out for bid, you need to know how you are going to score the responses. This allows you to be truly unbiased in your evaluation. This makes it so bidders can feel confident that they are not just a “courtesy bid” so you can check a box and purchase some solution that has already won. They need to know ahead of time that it is fair and how strong their proposal will be.
Some people like to use weighted scoring, so a real number has been associated with your criteria. Make sure and break down the most important items in order so you end up with the right solution for you. If you use a weighted average, the weights should obviously add up to 100%.
5 - Current state
It is important for bidders to understand what situation they will be transitioning you from. This could be critical for pricing and for them to understand your point of reference. For instance, if you are using a premise-based solution with multiple add on technologies and you want to go to the cloud, they can focus in on what makes sense in that situation. Or, if you have a Cloud solution and you just want to upgrade, tell them about what make your current solution unsatisfactory.
6 - Response guidelines
This section sets up the “how” of the RFP process. Lay it out clearly and you will have to answer fewer bidder questions. Things like:
- Where to access the RFP and/or additional information
- What their response should look like
- Primary contact
- Response submission instructions
- What the file should be saved as
- Important dates and milestones
These are your documented instructions to all bidders.
7 - Comprehensive vendor overview
This is the section where you can get information to become more comfortable with the bidder’s ability to deliver. Provide a list of materials and questions that you would like the bidder to provide. This could include:
- Samples of past work
- Case studies or successful deployments
- Proof of skills relevant to complete your project
- Proven success with other similar companies or projects
- Specific questions that help you vet the bidder as a partner you want
- Product innovation
- Money they invest in improving their product
This is essentially the “why we should consider your solution” section. Vendors should brag about their strengths and what sets them apart from the competition.
8 - Specific requirements
This should be the meat of the RFP. Create a list of questions and group them accordingly to validate the bidder’s solution meets your needs. Think about all of the features and functionality that you need and want included in the solution. It is also important to identify the “must have’ vs “nice to have” features. In some cases you will want to weight each feature based on its necessity to completing your project.
9 - Basic pricing
This goes without saying but you should always include a section that breaks out their pricing structure. You don’t necessarily need to tell them your budget but you do need know if they can afford to be your supplier. If your budget it too low, it may not be business they are interested in. Have this section break down pricing in a simple way so you can compare pricing from the different bidders fairly.
10 - Notice of references
In most cases, bidders will not supply references until they are selected as the vendor of choice. We would always recommend having this as a section to notify the bidder that you will require them later in the RFP process.
Designing, delivering, and evaluating RFPs can be challenging. The level of detail that goes into defining the problem, gathering requirements, and evaluating responses is significant. If this process is not a regular part of your business operations, it can be surprisingly easy to miss small details and run the risk of missing the mark at selection time. For this reason, it is a good idea to partner with a trusted advisor to help manage and facilitate this process.